Immigration and Equal Ownership of the Earth

Kieran Oberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

A number of philosophers argue that the earth's resources belong to everyone equally. Suppose this is true. Does this entail that people have a right to migrate across borders? This article considers two models of egalitarian ownership and assesses their implications for immigration policy. The first is Equal Division, under which each person is granted an equal share of the value of the earth's natural resources. The second is Common Ownership, under which every person has the right to use the earth's natural resources, but not the right to exclude others from them. While these models and their associated ideas have a long history within Western political thought, this article will examine them as they are presented by two sets of contemporary philosophers: Hillel Steiner, who defends Equal Division, and Michael Blake and Mathias Risse, who defend Common Ownership. In the case of each model, the article does three things. First, it considers the implications of the model for immigration policy. Second, it defends the model against objections from those defending immigration restrictions. Third, it contends that the model does not go far enough in its opposition to immigration restrictions. More specifically, the article argues that both Equal Division and Common Ownership, as presented by their proponents, fail to respect the claims of people whose interest in the land is not primarily economic. If the earth belongs to everyone equally, then people should not be prevented from pursuing important migratory goals such as family reunification, career development and education. The article concludes with a proposal for combining Equal Division with Common Ownership. Under this combined model, people would be free to migrate across international borders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-157
JournalRatio Juris: An international journal of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law
Issue number2
Early online date28 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2017


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